Jim and Jamie, BSEd ’82, Loker have dedicated their lives to a moment—a powerful moment, representing months of hard work—that changes lives forever.
As missionaries in Mexico and Guatemala, the Lokers have long lived the Biblical mandate to bring the Gospel into all corners of the world by translating scripture into numerous audio formats for non-literate Indian groups and indigenous peoples. Individuals speaking more than 90 different languages have been introduced to the Gospel for the first time through the efforts of the Lokers and their partners in the field.
Jim and Jamie Loker say that moment when someone’s heart is touched by the Bible for the first time makes everything—the sacrifices of missionary life, raising seven children in different cultures and the continual challenge of connecting with people whose languages and lives are very different from their own—worth it.
“It’s sort of like hitting a home run to win the World Series,” Jim explains, “when you get the scriptures into a format they can hear and into the hands of local people. As they hear it and their eyes open, they show their jubilation in various ways. We’ve seen it over and over again, and it’s the highlight of what we do.”
The Lokers spent 28 years living abroad as missionaries, serving in Guatemala and Oaxaca, a Mexican state they called home for the last two decades as field coordinators for Missionary Ventures. This summer, their work continues in a new role as they transition back to the United States. Jim was named executive director of the Michigan-based Audio Scripture Ministries, a role that will allow the Lokers to coordinate globally the type of work they did in the field.
Jamie was drawn to missions at a young age and eventually followed in the footsteps of her parents, Jim, BBA ’50, and Betty, BA ’50, Thomas, in choosing Baylor. While at Baylor, her longing for the mission field caused her to occasionally wonder if her classwork would be useful in the field.
“I started out as a music major, then changed to education and I ended up minoring in Spanish,” she remembers. “At the time, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know. What is the point in all these classes?’ But you know, God has used every single class that I had at Baylor; every single experience that I had, He’s used in some way.”
Jim dove into mission work immediately after becoming a Christian as an adult. He and Jamie met while studying linguistics for Wycliffe Bible Translators in preparation for the field and were married in 1984. As they began missionary life together, they took note of how many cultures did not value literacy. With this discovery, a calling was born.
“Both of us thought we’d go into literacy training,” Jamie says. “Once we got married and moved to Guatemala, we learned there were people who did not want to learn to read. That wasn’t the way they learned. That’s where our path diverged from literacy training, because we felt like it was more important to get them God’s word in whatever form that it could be used, not necessarily force them to learn to read.”
The obstacles are plentiful. In Oaxaca alone, they found 120 different language groups, many of which are geographically isolated and difficult to find amidst the state’s mountainous landscape. Such isolation can lead to an inherent distrust of outsiders. Once rapport is established, the process of recording the Bible in the people’s native tongue is a painstaking task, taking months, and occasionally years, to complete. The process of recording the Bible begins with identifying a language group, establishing trust and finding someone in the group who can read.
“We have always worked with locals and partnered with them,” Jamie explains. “We always work through local pastors. Even after 28 years, we will never be the best ones to identify who are the people to work with an area; we find the people who can read, and they help us make fewer cultural mistakes. We’re very dependent on bilingual workers who can speak Spanish and other native languages.”
“When we started recording in 1995, there were just a couple of New Testaments recorded in the whole state of Oaxaca,” Jim says. “They only had written material, and they couldn’t read it. I quickly found out what we needed a team to do to make this happen, so we recruited coworkers and audio technicians and people to promote the audio scriptures. It’s a team effort. No one person could do all of this.”
The teamwork is rewarded, months after the initial contact, with a recording of the Bible that allows the native groups to hear the Bible read by someone from their community. The Lokers provide the audio Bibles in whatever form they can—cassettes, hand-held digital devices, compact discs or low-frequency radio stations—along with the technology that allows it to be heard. Throughout the process, Jim says their job is to “carry the process through to completion” and make sure everyone has the needed resources. Additionally, they train pastors and equip locals to disciple others long after the missionaries have left.
After Jim accepted the call this spring to become the executive director of Audio Scripture Ministries, the Lokers uprooted and moved to Holland, Mich. While many view missionary life as a challenge, returning to the United States presents the Lokers with its own adjustments.
“What keeps us excited is talking and brainstorming the idea of expanding Audio Scripture Ministries into other countries,” Jamie says. “We’re hoping and trusting to see results. To a certain extent, though, we’re going through a grieving process. We’re mourning a life we left behind and really all of our closest friends. But being more in touch with what’s happening in other parts of the world keeps us going, just to see the fruit of that work around the world.”
Not everyone would feel such an internal struggle when returning to family, friends and the comforts they experienced growing up; however, the Lokers say serving the people of Guatemala and Oaxaca was more than a calling.
“It was a privilege and an honor,” Jamie says. “It’s an intimate, precious moment to see God’s word finally come to life in the hearts of people. Whatever sacrifices we made, we would do it again a million times over.”